Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – 42 Steps


Obediah fixed the coffee tray to carry to her room. It was 42 steps from the sink in the kitchen to the top of the stairs where the door of old woman’s room sat just left of the last step. He knew it was exactly 42 because he’d counted them over and over each time she screamed his name, yelling for him in the endless way that she did all hours of the day and now even into the night. “OBIE…!”  She’d shout, distorting his name even more atrociously than the standard way of shortening it. New people he met tried to call him Obed as if something less formal sounding might shrink the distance between them suddenly making them instant friends instead of the strangers they really were.

Obediah didn’t really like most people and he liked strangers even less. He’d grown up wary tending to keep to himself after his family had moved out to the country. Back in New Orleans, his Old Testament sounding name was never looked on as ridiculous or even odd by the people living closest to them.  New Orleans welcomed the weird and unusual so much so that being not just another Jennifer or Jason was appreciated and sometimes expected.

When forced to introduce himself he always gave his full name, Obediah Jenkins, but damned if people didn’t immediately ask him, ” What do you like to be called? ”  He couldn’t understand this. Why did people think he’d introduce himself one way with no indication that he might like to be called something else unless he’d offered it up in the first place. Obed, seemed to be the most popular choice when people were trying to rename him and even though he didn’t like it, he tolerated it coming from some people like the smiling checkout girl down at the Handy Pantry over in Hattiesburg.

Her name tag said her name was Bertie, but she’d told him that was because the store manager was too lazy to say her whole name when calling her up to the front whenever the store got busy and the lines were too long. Roberta had frowned a little when she’d told him this story. She said she hated the way Frank Stillwell, the store manager always sounded as if he was laughing a little when he called her name making Bertie sound more like Birdi slurring it all together like the southern Mississippi man he was.

Originally from Michigan, Roberta had trouble sometimes when folks around Hattiesburg pronounced their T’s like they were D’s. She said she spent what felt like half her life saying, ” What…or I’m sorry, could you repeat that.”  It never occurred to him to tell her that he preferred Obediah to Obed when heard her say it the first time. There was something so sweet in her northern way of speech that it almost sounded like a new name completely. It was enough to keep him coming back every couple of days to spend an extra minute or so talking to her when she was shelving peas or some other food group…none of which he usually wanted. He’d spot her down an aisle and act as if he’d been looking for just the particular item she happened to be holding, once even taking the can of pears directly from her hand so that their fingers touched for just a second. Even though the Wal-Mart Super Center out on Highway 49 had everything he might ever need and at a lower price, the one thing missing there was Roberta.

Listening to the noise coming from upstairs, he placed the items on the lace covered tray in the way he’d been taught. It seemed as if he’d been carrying this same cup of coffee for years, assuming responsibility by default after his father had died one day after coming in from cutting the grass. Obediah thought back to how a cold glass of milk on a hot summers day had changed his life forever.

He remembered because he couldn’t forget and he avoided the sofa in the living room in the same way that he now avoided milk. Looking more red-faced than usual, his father had plopped down on the largest place to sit in the room. Along with size, it was also the most sturdy and even though his mother would have yelled at him for “plopping” as she called it, his father did it anyway that day making it seem as if something was wrong before actually was.

Gus Jenkins had called out to his son asking him to please bring him something cold to drink and Obediah had gone to the old Frigidaire that came with the house and poured out a tall glass of cold milk. He’d carried it in to his father who downed it quickly and then stretched out on the sofa, putting his feet on the lacy throw that his mother had spent the winter crocheting with a tiny needle. He had started to tell his father that there were bits of grass dropping out of his cuffed trousers onto the seldom used coverlet, but the sound coming from his father stopped his words before they could form properly in his mouth. Looking up from his father’s feet in the direction of the unfamiliar sound, he realized the soft puffing noise was coming from his father. Seeing him with his hand tight to his chest, Obediah should have been able to tell right away that he was having a heart attack, but all he could focus on were the tiny white bubbles blowing across his lips created from the milk residue and the puffing brought on by the pain.

He’d stopped drinking milk after that and he never again sat on the sofa after the paramedic’s had lifted his father’s body off the spot where he’d plopped for the last time. Now all he had was this life that was no longer his own. He wished for more, but his mother had taken to her bed permanently it seemed after his father’s death. He had no life outside this house and the woman waiting for him upstairs. It seemed he only got tiny minutes of his life back during his trips into town to pick up the groceries they needed, but just this morning his mother had been whining that she couldn’t be left alone anymore. ” Obie,” she’d said, “we’ll just have to have what we need delivered.”  ” Your mama needs you here with her.”  She said all of this in what he thought of as her, ” I’m too sick to be denied ” voice and knew then that he had a choice to make.

No more trips to the Handy Pantry meant no more visits with Roberta and Obediah felt ill thinking that his life would be permanently confined to the walls of this old house. He wanted more than a few minutes in the frozen food aisle with her, but that was never going to happen unless a few things changed around here. He pulled the dusty box out from underneath the kitchen sink where he’d stuck it a few weeks ago after telling himself that kitchen was being overrun with ants again. Searching through the old gardening shed out back, he had found the box with its brightly colored warning signs still prominent even though the box had faded from sitting on a shelf for the last few years. He’d noted the directions for use at that time and what to do in case of accidental poisoning before tucking it into a dark place back behind the Pledge he never seemed to get around to using.

It didn’t matter now he thought, since his mother never came downstairs anymore. She never noticed whether there were ants crawling through the sugar bowl or dust on her mother’s antiques. Obediah sprinkled a little ant poison around the back of the sink  where they seemed to be coming in through a crack in the wall. Using a teaspoon that he’d taken from the kitchen drawer, he dusted the area carefully trying to be precise. Shaking out another spoonful of the white powder he dropped it into the cream on his mother’s coffee tray giving it a quick stir before leaving the used spoon behind in the sink. He hurried along thinking he would wait and wash up when he came back down as his mother’s shouting was beginning to get on his last nerve.

Picking up her tray, he counted the steps as he had for the last ten years, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, knowing that this time was different. Obediah had first begun counting the steps years ago when the distance between the kitchen and her door seemed never-ending. Knowing it was only 42 steps helped him make the journey over and over too many times a day to remember all the trips. It might still be 42 steps from the kitchen sink to his mother’s door, but somehow today it seemed more final as if these steps were now part of a destination and not just more of the same old daily journey.  “OBIE!”  Obediah heard her shrill voice calling him and instead of his usual anger at hearing his name so distorted he counted, seven Mississippi, eight Mississippi, focusing instead on the steps leading up to his freedom.

Thanks to Leon for the topic suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST.  I also want to thank MrsDoF for her topic sentences and Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST. Her story can be found on her blog here. Although Judy and I have not been comparing notes, it seems we tend to choose the same topic sentences and photographs for our TMAST projects. I find it interesting that it has occurred several times already and it makes me look forward to seeing what next week brings. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.

Additionally, I want to thank each of you who leave a comment especially on TMAST days. These little stories are fun to write and are the seeds I hope for the bigger stories and real work I imagine for my writing future.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – The Return


Ahhhhh, home!

Rounding the bend near the end of the lane, Joyce saw at once that the cars were still there sitting like a permanent part of the landscape in the place she’d remembered. When she was a child she had gone missing for an afternoon after she had crawled in through a broken window. She’d brushed the tiny pieces of glass off the seat and onto floor of the car after slipping a few pieces of what looked more like diamonds than broken glass into the center pocket her blue jean overalls. Always a petite child, she’d dropped easily into place behind a steering wheel that would seem huge compared with those found in modern cars today, but back then even sitting up as big and tall as she could, she had barely been able to see over the wheel. Tilting her head back so that her nose pointed up she’d struggled to see over the cracked dashboard of the abandoned car. After a while her neck had begun to ache and she diverted her attention to what was easy to see and close enough to reach. Picking at the peeling strips of interior paint, she tried to tug a piece loose scratching at it gently the way she might pick at the scabby places she always seemed to have on her knees.

Joyce had disappeared that day, lost for what her foster family would say seemed like most of the afternoon and evening. Sitting in the remains of someone else’s dreams, she been lulled to sleep by the heat of the afternoon sun which even in late summer was still baking hot and only bearable because of the cars position under a leafy canopy of trees. Walking through the tall grasses was easier at her age now as she made her way over to the shell of what had been her first mode of transportation. This old wreck of a car had never actually moved from its present location not with Joyce in it anyway, but looking back she remembered the places she’d traveled in her mind while sitting on its worn front seat using her imagination as a roadmap to all the places she would go.

Seeing the tireless rims of what had been her spaceship to the moon and an airplane built for one, she thought about the times when she had pretended that this old car had special powers that could protect her from the evil outside forces that threatened her daily life. Outside evil forces was the name she given what she couldn’t understand and it was the comic books that taught her about superheroes and their powers. She’d found them stuffed inside an old cardboard suitcase almost too small to contain them all. One day while hiding in an old shed behind the barn, she had made herself as small as she could and pushed in behind a dusty tarp. Backing up against a wall, she’d bumped into the suitcase that held what she would come to think of as her handbooks for survival.

Joyce shifted a bit, restless with the discomfort caused by old memories and the weight of the box she held in her hands. It had been so long since she was last here that she wasn’t sure where the path was anymore. As overgrown as it was now, she couldn’t quite see it and tried to remember with her feet instead of looking with her eyes. She knew that the last member of the foster “family” had died not long ago. The old man had held on to his miserable life long after she wished him dead for the first time and now years after she’d left this place which was never a home, she finally felt safe enough to return.

The air was so hot that she could barely move feeling like it took too much effort to even walk, but she was on a mission to return what she’d taken years ago even though it meant going back to the place where she’d found it. A friend that she’d confided in had suggested she sell the contents of the box, after all there was a huge market for old comic books. Joyce had explained as patiently as she could that these well-read worn out pages had no value to a collector in their condition and that selling them would be like selling off the stuffed Pooh bear her friend had treasured since childhood. ” These Masters of the Universe belong to another world ” she’d said, while thinking quietly to herself…a world that I am finally done doing battle with.

Thanks to Karen Caterson for her suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST. Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST and her story can be found on her blog here. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Stepping Stones


“How could you serve me with divorce papers when I told you I just wanted time away to think?”

Josie took a deep breath after she said this keeping her tone even and her voice calm an action that took all of her control when what she really wanted was to scream. She wished she’d gone back inside to take the call from Paul instead of staying where she’d been standing while watching the beach. As he began again to list all the same old things she could never seem get right, she found herself tuning out the sound of his voice as she watched a family setting up their umbrella chairs just past the sand dunes near the water.

She wished for a moment that she could be back here again with Paul the first time they’d seen the beach house. Everything had seemed possible then when things were new and love seemed like it would last forever. Josie had wanted a family with this man, children like the two she saw on the beach squirming and giggling as their mom tried to spread sunscreen over them. She watched the woman rubbing what looked like Coppertone on the little girls thinking perhaps she might actually be able to protect them from the damaging rays of the hot Florida sun. Josie knew she was writing a script for the young mother based on her own fears. She too had once believed that protection from skin cancer could be had for a few dollars in a tube of zinc based cream. It wasn’t until her doctor had said melanoma that she’d stopped believing the marketing hype. She’d never liked Florida before, not even as a kid when she’d gone to Disney World the summer she turned twelve, but there was something different about this place. This sliver of island off the eastern coast of Florida was far enough north to see the seasons change and some of the older houses built years before even had fireplaces, something you didn’t see anymore since the laws had changed and people worried more about clean air.

Watching the children chase the waves that rolled up on the beach, she smiled as the older girl slipped past the reach of her younger sister squealing with the delight of the victorious in a game of tag. Josie forgot for a minute what Paul at been saying and the anger in his voice. She thought instead about this place, this piece of beach where she’d fallen in love with the mismatched round stepping stones on a path between the grassy dunes in front of the beach house. Weathered and grey made from some pebbly mixture, it was the stones that had sealed it for her. Right from the beginning there had been something magical about the odd spacing of the stones that stretched across the sand. Laid out by someone with a longer gait, the distance between them made it so she almost had to leap slightly like a child skipping from stone to stone, dancing in a way through the dunes to the beach.

Remembering all this, she let the divorce papers she’d been holding slip from her hand as she dropped the phone into sand at her feet. She thought for second she heard Paul’s voice calling out to her from somewhere …just before she stepped out of her shoes and onto the path, leaping as she went from stone to stone on her way back down to the water’s edge.

Thanks to Red Pine Mountain for her opening sentence that I used to do this bit of practice writing for the first TMAST .

After you read this, please go here to leave a sentence for next weeks challenge and perhaps some of you will join me by writing one yourself and posting it on your blog on Tuesday. It you let me know you’ve posted a piece for TMAST, (Tell Me A Story Tuesday) I’ll link to it here with my story. Thank you to everyone who left a comment last week over at the TMAST site. I really enjoyed reading them and had a difficult time deciding which to use today.